Outdoor Airborne Pathogens and Human Health in the UK

Lead Research Organisation: University of Essex
Department Name: Biological Sciences


This study looks at a group of outdoor opportunistic microorganisms and pathogens (both are called pathogens here) that have the ability to be airborne in the natural environment and cause human infections. There is a very clearly-defined and significant link between airborne pathogens and human health, from pneumonia caused by various kinds of germ to a more specific lung infection caused by a particular pathogen. Natural environment takes a significant part in controlling and determining the source, pathway, exposure routes and, ultimately, health risk of these airborne pathogens to humans. It is very important to understand the environmental pathways and properties of these pathogens and their link and mechanism in causing diseases in order to protect human lives. Infectious particles are not only the particles containing the pathogens, but particles with other physical and chemicals properties that facilitate the infection. This is the key environmental aspect that we need to find out; 'how the environment produces and interacts with these infectious particles'. It is a complicated issue that requires a multidisciplinary team to tackle, for instance, medical experts look at the dose of pathogens and how the pathogens get into the body and cause infection, while environmental scientists investigate where and how the pathogens come to the environment. At the moment, medical and environmental scientists usually work separately because of the different research focus, human vs. environment. However, in order to better protect human lives and set up efficient environmental and health policies, we must build links between these disciplines. Little has been done in building up this link. In this study, we propose to form a working group to build a network and research capacity to tackle human health problems associated with outdoor airborne pathogens. The novelty of this working group is that medical and environmental scientists will examine their concerns and problems with a multidisciplinary approach. In the other words, medical experts are no longer looking at pathogens in the human body alone; they are also looking at these pathogens in the environment. They will contribute to the understanding of the environmental process and pathway, which lead to the production of pathogens that will be a risk to human health. Similarly, environmental scientists will examine how the environmental change will influence the infectivity of pathogens. Environmental scientists can not determine the health-related environmental pathways of pathogens without the medical input and techniques. They need to know the mechanisms of infection in the body in order to design what and how to investigate and monitor pathogens in the environment. We believe that only by using this multidisciplinary approach, scientists can determine environmentally and medically meaningful data to protect human health. The outcomes of this working group are to gain better understanding of airborne pathogens in the UK air, which will benefit many areas of research and organisations as well as help the policy makers and health assessors in setting up guidelines and criteria on various human activities.


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